What’s happening in Zimbabwe?
Robert Mugabe held power in Zimbabwe for 37 years. When he stepped down in 2017, there was hope that it would be the catalyst for political and social change across the country. However, it seems that Emmerson Mnangagwa – who took over from Mugabe as President of Zimbabwe – is struggling to keep control of a divided country and things appear to be spiralling out of control.
This part of the world has an extraordinary history. For around 400 years, it was ruled by the Monomotapa Empire – a hub for international trade, and gold mining. However, Zimbabwe’s modern history is defined by the intervention of another empire – the British Empire.
It was in 1889 that the British first began to colonise what we now know as Zimbabwe. In 1965, the white-minority ruling government declared independence from Britain, triggering a civil war that didn’t end until 1980 when elections were held and Robert Mugabe was elected as leader.
Emmerson Mnangagwa was part of the push for independence, and has been a powerful political figure since Mugabe took control in 1980. He is often referred to as The Crocodile because of his political cunning.
Since becoming President, Mnangagwa has pledged open government and a program to stabilise the country’s economy and boost foreign investment. However, ongoing price hikes and high underlying inflation have led to street protests.
The availability of fuel has increasingly become a daily flash-point for tension in Zimbabwe. A shortage of fuel has seen dramatic price rises. People are forced to wait in long queues to try and access fuel that they is no longer affordable. The price of fuel is set by the government.
The issues around fuel are part of a wider picture of an economy in crisis. The local currency has become dangerously devalued, and food shortages are becoming a part of daily life.
The army and police have been deployed against protesters, and there have been allegations of police brutality.
LGBTQ life in Zimbabwe
While same-sex relationships are well documented during Zimbabwe’s colonial period, the anti-gay legal provisions that were common across the British Empire during that period became part of the laws of Zimbabwe.
The country’s anti-gay position was strengthened in 2006, when new laws were passed that criminalised any actions perceived as homosexual. In addition, it became a criminal offence for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss. The sexual deviancy provisions of Zimbabwe’s criminal code define sodomy as any “act involving contact between two males that would be regarded by a reasonable person as an indecent act.”
In 2013, the Zimbabwe Constitution was amended to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. There is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships, and no protection against discrimination.
Zimbabwe is a socially conservative country. Religion plays a strong role in the day-to-day lives of people, and religious leaders in Zimbabwe publicly advocate against the LGBTQ community.
Violence against LGBTQ people and persecution based on sexuality is commonplace.
The end of Mugabe’s rule and the rise of President Mnangagwa was seen by the LGBTQ community as a positive step forward, offering the potential to make some progress towards equality. However, the ongoing political and economic uncertainty that grips the country means that there is no focus on discussions regarding equality when everyone is just trying to figure out how to put food on the table from one day to the next.